About Me

Saturday, February 26, 2011


It got colder and snowed this morning and now it is a sloppy mess so I am staying home this evening, but I did go to an afternoon ballet class, in between puppy walks.  Just now Yasir met the two St. Bernards that live down the block and an elegant elderly well-dressed lady couldn't help smiling at the sight of little Yasir being inspected by the two "horses," as one girl in my building calls these dogs.  They are, however, very sweet, the old one and their new "puppy" who is almost grown.  Yasir shivers when he gets cold so I take him out for little walks and he doesn't venture far from my side, but I know that soon he will and I will have to take him to obedience school.  Presently it is just nice to stay home with him and relax.

I have been so active that this quiet time is good for me; actually, I feel more energized now that I have my "friend" to share quality time with.  There is no point working out and being active if you are stressed.  So, I went downtown to Lou Conte Dance Studio and took class with a dancer/teacher I have known from the Ruth Page School.  The dance community can be a tight-knit world and everyone eventually knows everyone else who dances.  I like to take her beginner class to work on my structure and now that she has become a Pilates instructor, I am learning this from her, too, and how to use Pilates while dancing.  Her plies, for instance, are so aligned since she is using the correct muscles, it is beautiful to see.

Working out at the gym makes me more confident in ballet class and this really helps, since I am so shy.  Today I even stood front center in center.  One thing about being right there in your face, you realize what is in your head.  There was a barre exercise that went 4x tendus front, hold count 3; 3x to side, hold count 2; 2x to back...you get the picture and I asked the teacher what was the purpose of the exercise when she asked if there were any questions.  She said it was "to think."  So during center I noticed how I  always "think" too much and scrutinize everything so that I almost look fake; that is, I am unnatural in my movements.  If I stand in back the way I like to do, I am less self-conscious and enjoy dancing.  I want to be this way in front, center, too, to really show what I know so that people will look at me.

So in center, after a good warmup barre, we did an adagio: developpe croise devant, developpe croise derriere, chasse pas de bourre pirouettes.  We also did sou sou step forward, passe balance, pirouettes.  For jumps we did glissade assemble, assemble, glissade pas de chat, pas de chat, coupe, temps leve arabesque glissade grand jete.  Since it was a beginning class, time was spent on breaking down the steps, something which is not done in more advanced classes where it is presumed everyone knows how to do this already.  This is why the elementary classes are vital to understand how to dance with quality.  So many people take dance classes to work out, but, as one teacher said, if you want to do that, go to the gym, because dancing is an artform.

I believe that the essence of sports is also like this, since the times of the ancient Greek Olympic Games.  The true athlete is graceful, like a dancer.  The difference is the approach, I think.  Where the athlete is looking to play the game and win the prize, the dancer uses physicality to achieve form, as a musician would when playing an instrument.  Both are a reflection of the human spirit, I believe, which is innately beautiful when excellence is achieved...

Class notes:
1. Keep hips and shoulders aligned at barre, move in a steady rhythm, point your toes.  The teacher said it is like stretching your feet.  Have a pleasant expression on your face.  "Do it with a smile," the teacher said.  Counterbalance your body, with your hands, feet, eyes.  The teacher said if one arm is weaker than the other or one side is stronger, you will totter around, much like I do now, I thought...
2. Respect the distance between you and the other dancers.  Move with the other dancers harmoniously.
3. Do not move hips or pick up hips to move the legs because you lose the connection in the hamstring when your leg is not properly used.
4. Show some energy and vitality, even though you do not always feel it.  It is part of being professional and mature in your work.
5. Point your toes, stretch your knees, even in port de bras.
6. Spot your head in multiple turns.
7. Balance, balance, balance, on one leg in demi-point!
8. Do not be afraid to make honest mistakes.
9. Have fun!!

Friday, February 25, 2011

It's Friday and all is well...

So today I took puppy to the park, where he encountered some other dogs.  I am really surprised at how fast he is learning to take control of himself.  He was bouncing around and generally enjoying himself.  I worry about him with Tiger now, though, because he is getting more aggressive and he has been tackling Tiger's neck like a little wolf.  I will have to watch to see if they can truly get along...

Then I went to the gym to Pilates and did everything except the planks and push-ups, but I can only keep trying.  My back muscles are getting stronger, though, from the stomach series where you lift your chest and hover over the floor.  I don't have much trouble with the leg exercises, just the areas around my obliques and my lower back.  Also, my arms still need to be stronger but they are much better.  It is all the little things, like how to hold your head, the angle of your shoulders, correct posture, that are the hardest.

It is nice that there is an apartment building with a large front lawn across the street.  I always let Apollo walk around off leash because he is too small to get very far and I can still catch up with him, for the time being.  I will have to take him around and let him be free now while he is still small and I enjoy spending time just being with him.  Dogs have a way of making you relax and I feel much calmer than usual these days.

I just sat around with my pets in the afternoon and then I went to Joffrey Academy for the advanced class with Guillermo, always fun, although I think his barre combinations are confusing:  balancoire, passe developpe inside leg, passe outside leg to fondu ronde jambe, developpe efface, developpe croise derrierre; or tendus front side side front, 5th, 5th, pas de cheval en croix, etc.  I asked a girl afterwards who is attending graduate school who aced everything in class what she thinks about when she is learning combinations and she said to think more of phrases and transitions and not individual steps and movements.  She also said she listens to the rhythm of how the teacher recites the combinations for some sense of flow.  Interesting...

1. Plies with port de bras.
2. Tendu front, plie, tendu side, plie, tendu back to 4th, plie and straighten legs, 2x tendu back; reverse.
3. Degages 3x front, 3x back, 1st, 5th 5th, 5th 1st, passe balance.
4. Passe fondu extend, repeat back, developpe side, tombe away from barre with 2nd position port de bras.
5. Frappes en croix single and double, beats, let go of barre and balance.
6. Developpe front, plie pique arabesque; reverse, ronde jambes en l'air, chasse forward to pirouette, chasse pas de bourre back to barre.
7. Grand battements front, back, side, side, 3x front, 3x back, side, side.
1. Tendu croise devant, demi-plie, repeat en croix, detourne, pas de basque, pirouettes; repeat other side.
2. Grand plie, pirouette to developpe efface, pique arabesque, grande fouette, chasse pas de bourre pirouettes.
3. Chasse pas de bourre pirouette 2x, soutenu, pique turns, soutenu, pique turn en dehors.
4. Jumps 3x 1st, 3x seconde, changements.
5. Assemble, assemble, glissade jete temps leve, jete, glissade assemble assemble, glissade jete coupe jete en tournant, chasse assemble, 2x changement.
6. Temps leve arabesque, step passe, coupe, jete en tournant, chasse pas de bourre grand jete, coupe renverse pas de bourre, pirouettes en dedans, soutenu, pirouettes en dehors.
7. Reverence, port de bras, step courtsey, hand to heart, extend, hand to head, extend, mime with arms.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Thursday Workout

Between the gym, ballet school and my puppy, I have had a super day.  There is nothing like coming home to an appreciative dog.  I must say that my Yasir, my puppy, was quite bold today, mingling with the dogs in the park and neighborhood, and bouncing around my apartment.  He still cries when I leave him but I think he understands that I can't be pampering him all day and so he waits for me now a little better; also, Tiger, my kitten, is keeping him in line and has fun eyeing his funny puppy ways.

After taking Yasir out in the morning, I went swimming and churned through the water quite energetically. I hastily took the bus home to see if Yasir was quiet and all was well; in fact, when I came home, he acknowledged me and promptly went to sleep.  I decided to take him to the park briefly, although it was very muddy.  He made friends with a black pug dog named Shadow and generally had fun seeing the other dogs.

Then I walked to the ballet school nearby.  I am so lucky to live close to a place where I can take class regularly, especially now that I have a puppy.  I really worry about him when I leave home because there are some neighbors who will complain about how big he will become or if he makes a peep, but I turn these conversations around to asking them what kind of pet they have or how much noise some people make on weekends, etc...ha, ha!

The class was an adult intermediate class where most of the students didn't pay attention to form or learning the combinations.  It makes me wonder about the quality of physical instruction, where anybody can take a class, or anybody can go to the gym, and not really pay attention.  These things are considered a privilege and yet no one wants to improve and sometimes if someone is better than the next, they resent it.  I would think that it should be the opposite, that excellence should be respected, at least that's how I feel.

1. Plies with port de bras.
2. Tendus en croix with port de bras.
3. Degages: degage front, envelope, 2x degage; repeat en croix.
4. Ronde jambes with fondus and attitude extensions, balance in attitude.
5. Adagio: demi plie, port de bras to side, down, back, tendu efface, elonge arm to reverence, arabesque promenade to other side.
6. Frappes 3x flex, point en croix.
7. Beats and fondus with ronde jambes en l'air.
8. Grand battements front, back, side, side.
1. Tendu croise, tendu efface, temps lie, tendu side with other leg, chasse pirouettes.
2. Balance, balance, pique arabesque, balance back, repeat 2x, arabesque contretemps 2x, chasse pirouettes en dedans.
3. Step ecarte with elonge arms, coupe developpe ecarte, balance en tournant, step attitude promenade, extend arabesque.
4. Jumps: 1st 5th 1st 5th, second 2x, glissade jete, glissade jete, ballonne, ballonne, coupe assemble, changement.
5. En diagonal glissade jete glissade jete, step jete, step jete.

This last combination had a different glissade in that it was one-beat, so that the legs came together quickly and more strongly because the teacher said sometimes dancers fudge their jumps and are off-balance and don't really land in 5th, so this exercise would curb that.  Also, since I had trouble with the jetes, I noticed how much easier they were if you moved forward with each one and not jump behind yourself.

Afterward I stretched and stretched in the dressing room, for almost an hour.  I stretched in straddle, placing my head on the floor; sideways, lying on the carpeted floor, and just standing and hanging my arms down until all the knots were out of my muscles.  Then I went home and took Yasir out once again, around the block, carrying him home when I had to walk against the cold wind. Now he is sleeping...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wednesday and Pilates...

I should rename this blog "Dancing, the Gym, and my Dog...I am beginning to think crate training is not for him.  He is so young that he whines whenever I put him there and I never crated my first dog, either.  Still, when I crated my second dog, it was nice to see him take to his space more readily and he seemed to have more control of his boundaries outside, too.  The problem is the neighbors -- I already got one complaint today when I left my apartment for only two hours!

So, Yasir is really amazingly strong for such a young boy and he has readily taken to walking, although he sleeps most of the time.  I took him to the vet, who was impressed with his general robustness.  Then we went back home because he prefers to play with his toys, which is good for him.

I was able to get to the gym and take my favorite Pilates class today, the one with the Swiss balls and weights.  My arms are getting much better from working with weights and my stability, especially in my oblique area, is improving from being on the Swiss ball.  My leg raises to the side were a little more placed, although my left leg still wants to swing to an angle instead of in a straight line.  Straight lines are what it's all about, and even my ballet teacher on Monday said, "stay straight, Dorothy."  I still notice that I hunch over and my chiropractor, who is my niece, said this is the danger of Pilates, that you think you must crunch into this hunched over state.  Really, though, the aim is to be straight and strong, with a little inner tug...

I am going to my ballet class tomorrow, rain or shine, because I have missed two days and there is a saying that if you miss one day, you know it; two days, you audience knows it, or something like that.  I wanted to go to the gym tonight and swim but after I heard the thunder, I bought some food and headed home in the messy rain/snow, Chicago's finest...then I took puppy out and his stamina amazed me again, walking in the stormy snowy night, like a real hunter.

Now we are both resting at home, dreaming of adventures to come...

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday with puppy

My new puppy kept me busy all day and I had to spend some quality time with him, especially to try to crate train him.  He balked the first time and started crying, so I went to his "cage" and just looked at him and when he was quiet I gave him a treat.  Now I have left him alone again as I write this and I am curious as to whether he is crying now, but he has to learn how to be alone.  It is hard, because he is young and in a new place, away from his family.

So, we walked to the pet store and I bought him a hoodie for the cold March days again, a little big, but he will grow out of it in no time.  Currently, my kitten is bigger than he is, but not for long.  The next step is potty training.  After all that walking to the pet store, you would think he would do his business, but he waited until we got home!  So, I lit some incense and mopped up the floor, spraying pet neutralizer everywhere.  I worry more about his whining, though, because eventually I know he will get better bladder control.

He had an encounter with a mean terrier who tried to snap at him and that set him crying in piercing screams!  He gets along well with my kitten, though, and he did cross paths with some other dogs, too, and lots of people of course wanted to meet him.  It was a long day for me, too, but I love going to the airport and seeing all the other travelers from distant places.  I shared an airport bus with a German man and we talked about Europe and the country versus the city life.  I also saw a young man boarding his Golden Retriever -- they were both headed to Oregon.  He hugged his dog before he left and the dog was sitting in a large crate ready to go just as my puppy arrived, looking small and lost...

Monday, February 21, 2011


I went to the storage place again and then I went to get some dog supplies and then the bus was right there outside the pet store to take me to Pilates class.  The substitute teacher ran us through our drills, leg kicks from the side, spine stretches, rolling up, and after class I asked her what I could do for my back and shoulders while doing my spring cleaning and she recommended lunges to develop the hip flexors and the yoga pigeon pose, lifting the back leg up to try to touch the head; also for the shoulders, get on a rowing machine at the gym to work the trapezius muscles.

Then I had to go to the dentist.  I really had a fun day, right?  I went to the health food store and on the way walked into an art exhibit of cake sculptures.  There were all kinds of cakes and I bought myself a piece of art:  a white bonbon made of old coffee cups shaped together with glue.  And then I was right by the train, which whisked me away to ballet.

There was a young man in class, a really good professional dancer I knew from the past, and he made being in class so much more fun because he loves to dance.  I watched him take command of the combinations and when I felt lost, I glanced at him and he always knew what he was doing.  Same in center, I followed him through pirouettes and later through a rather tricky jump combination which the teacher told us to remember for a future class, so I will write it down shortly...

As promised, class:

1. Plies with port de bras.  Demi, demi, grand plie in 2nd, port de bras forward, back, force arch, grand plie, releve, force arch in releve, balance.
2. Tendus 1st, 5th, 4x second, 1st 5th back, 4x second.  (I tried to use the floor and make my legs heavy and then the teacher said to lift the heels up and this seems to help, too.  I told the man in class I am working on my feet...)
3. Degages 4x front, 1st 5th side, 4 back, balancoire, fondu passe extend to arabesque balance.
4. Pique front side, side front, swing to back, 5th, degage out seconde, degages in second position with arms.
5. Frappes 3x en croix, batterie; do on demi pointe. (Really strike the floor and go down into the ground, the teacher said).
6. Fondus en croix with developpes in 4th, ecarte, fouette to attitude balance, extend to arabesque.
7. Ronde jambes with fondus, ronde jambe off floor, kick to back.
8. Grand battements.  (Don't hoist the hip up, teacher said at me, push down into the ground -- keep the hips still).
1. Tendus croise front, point tendu in second, pas de basque, pirouettes en dehors.  (The teacher stressed through class to keep the lats muscles down and squeeze the floating ribs together so your back doesn't stick out.  Put your fingers on the ribs and pull together at the waistline -- that much you have to suck in the middle -- and it really helped my pirouettes.  Painful but good at the same time.)
2. Chasse pas de bourre forward to pirouettes en dedans, chasse to pirouettes en dehors.
3. Echappe beat trois, glissade jete battu, glissade jete battu, brises, pas de bourre ouverte, trois, assemble, entrechesix.   Repeat left side.  (This was the tricky jump, and it was tricky because it was fast.  I tried to assemble my legs in the air with pointed feet and plie with my whole foot on the floor every time.)
4. Chasse pas de bourre glissade grand jetes.

I think the man in class was amazed that I could actually turn and I almost looked like a dancer -- since he had seen me last in my gangly state, many have noticed I am much improved due to my constant Pilates workouts, swims, yoga, and lessons with my best teacher to whom I owe so much.  The dancer in me is finally coming out...

The art gallery I visited was full of cake sculptures which are nice to look at but forbidden in the world of sports.  I wish I could afford this giant cake, which is filled in the center with a pink toy poodle and other kinds of sweet things, which took the artist two years to complete, which probably costs around $7,000, or the most expensive price I saw on the "menu".  I settled for the white bonbon, made from styrafoam coffee cups bent into shape with layers of glue, a work of art purchased by me for $4!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rainy Sunday

I had to go swimming and I did my laps as I watched the now ever present swim instructor talk about straight legs, pointed feet, and straight long arms.  Sounds like ballet...then I soaked in the steam room, whirlpool and sauna, much needed after tugging at more things in storage.  My storage locker is looking cleaner every day.  There is something rewarding about domestic chores and having a nice home and I know I will spending a lot of time there now that the puppy is coming...

I was ready for ballet class this morning.  I got up earlier than usual, another thing I will be doing for puppy, and so I had my coffee at home in my new coffee machine and then I walked out the door and then the rain started and it rained all day.  After class I went to my storage locker and brought some old clothes home, walking into the wind in the pouring rain. But since I swim all the time, I'm used to being wet.

So I worked diligently on holding my back up in class.  Last night as I was examining myself in the mirrored closet walls at home, I tried bending a little bit backward in the waistline to accentuate a curve in my lumbar spine and, thinking that this looked rather attractive, I chose to stand this way at bar.  I noticed how much easier it was to do the bar balances in passe, arabesque and pirouettes that the teacher likes us to do at barre; however, the pinch in my waistline was relentless and the pressure on my nerves in the sacroiliac area prevented me from pointing my feet as well as I usually do.

I asked the teacher how to use the feet in the fast tendu en croix combination he gave and he said to think of making the leg heavy coming in and that it was a matter of using the inner thighs and the proper body alignment more than just the feet and I thanked him for his advice.  Still, I could not point my feet today, or get into the tips of my toes.  It is really true about the inner leg and I have been doing it incorrectly for so long, using the outside quads and compensating by crunching forward, which makes it easier for the hips to flex but is bad for the back, that I will have to retrain myself.  I am thinking of going into the basement gym at home and just working on tendus, if I can get the key to the area with the punching bag and ballet barre again...

Otherwise, class was great and I had no problems with the combinations except when I stared at the teacher and watched his execution and then forgot the steps.  I am so into how to do movements and I need to also learn to be more matter-of-fact and actually do them!  I took my glasses off and was able to spot turns so much better without them; also they made me not think and so it was more physical for me and I didn't have to look at myself and so I really felt everything so much better.  I should keep my glasses off more often and it makes my head feel so much lighter.  I even felt more feminine without them!!

The teacher commented on how I was so strong that I could do 10 ballets and not get tired and then I told him what my daddy always said about hard work and not giving up and the effort will make you stronger.  It is true -- the harder you work, the easier it gets.  As I have heard this teacher say to his private student, you have to trick your mind...I watched him with his young pupil while I stretched after class, making her do the sissonne arabesque, sissonne side, side, emboite assemble jump combination which was the last thing in class.  I knew how tiring this was as I tried to not only master the combination but do it gracefully and with pointed feet and proper alignment.  That is really harder than any combination, how you do it, which I learned from Saturday's beginner class.  There is always more to do with the body and people who are impatient for results will never achieve the quality that makes ballet so pretty.

So in the pool I tried to swim with pointed feet at all times and surprisingly, it made me swim so much better.  It did not necessarily feel better because I felt the pain of new muscles working that I never used, but I felt lighter in the water and more graceful.  So, I must point my feet, always...

Some Class Exercises:
1. Demi plie, grand plie, demi plie releve facing barre.
2. Plies with port de bras.
3. Tendus 1st plie releve, 2nd plie releve, en croix.
4. Tendus front, back, fifth, fifth, first fifth, fifth 4x.  Last time with passe balance, foot in back.
5. Degages 4x front, sides, back, port de bras.
6. Ronde jambes fondu around, 4x ronde jambes, port de bras.
7. Battement, pique, degages, en croix.  Penche.
8. Frappes en croix fondu with beats, releve passes with pirouettes.
9. Fondu front to side with ronde jambes, balance in 2nd position.
10. Grand battements 2x en croix.
11. Tendu croise ronde jambe to croise derrierre, pirouettes.
12. Pique arabesque fondu promenade, circular port de bras, attitude turns en dehors.
13. Adagio developpe seconde plie pas de bourre pirouettes 5th to 4th, to 4th.
14. Sixteen changements; 2 changements with echappes (slow down the plies).
15. Last combination mentioned above.  Also, we did pas de bourres dessous and dessus before pirouettes.